Finding Fela!

| September 13, 2014

Renowned Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones’ work in bringing the life and times of iconic Nigerian musician Fela Kuti to the Broadway stage is detailed in a documentary due to premiere at the Music Box Theatre on Chicago’s North Side on September 12. Finding Fela! is Emmy Award-winning Alex Gibney’s documentary, and it details Fela’s influence in Nigeria and the creation of the Afrobeat music genre.

Fela, the name for which he is known, is one of the world’s most dynamic and enduring personalities in music. In addition to being an innovative musician, he was a political firebrand whose music still lives on. The documentary tells us that popular music in Nigeria has a reputation for melding local melodies, languages, and polyrhythms with influences from all over the world, including Brazil, Cuba, Niger and the Sahara, Congo, Jamaica, and the United States. Fela managed to blend these musical styles together and to take his show on the road, as his fan base grew larger and larger.

The musical was a success, but Jones had some reservations about revealing some parts of Fela’s life in the documentary, but he shared many performances at Fela’s Nigeria Shrine night club in Lagos, Nigeria.

In 1969, Fela came to the United States and was inspired by the Black Power movement. He returned to Nigeria and formed his band, Afrika 70, while also setting up a commune in Lagos called the KalakutaRepublic. History and the play reveal that Fela was a trailblazing, eccentric entertainer, who was also deeply committed to political justice in Nigeria. Jones brings the love that Fela had for his mother full circle and sadly talks about military intrusion at the compound with fatal results.

Finding Fela! is filled with rousing, strong, funky universal music and sometimes awkward scenes of Fela just sitting in his underpants, relaxing as he most often did. It details the reasons why Fela decided to marry 27 women, even though he had a sweetheart whom he had met in the United States. Jones does, as well, show Fela’s pain and that of his family’s when he is stricken with AIDS.

Finding Fela! shares interviews with Questlove and Paul McCartney and is good for the music that is enjoyable. Check listings  at http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/.

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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